The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

Change Revisited ~ Process vs. Identity

A couple of my earlier posts described my thoughts on change. 

Today though, while holding one of my Fitness Coaching sessions, I realized that the posts I wrote on change were only 1/2 correct, with a whole other half missing. 

You see, in my earlier posts, I recommended changing one habit at a time.  I was basically saying that by making the change a methodical process, you can achieve a greater rate of success than if you were to go for it all in one fell swoop.  The recommendation was to simultaneously raise your standards while also chunking down the process into manageable steps. 

Although, I still agree with those points, I must say it leaves a lot to be desired. 

The question earlier today, was after one of the women started “working out” again this past weekend.  She started with walking and was complaining that she felt that she needed to do more and that it was a waste of her time.  During the previous fitness coaching session, we had discussed Chunk Theory and how, in order to grow, progressive change was needed in order to handle progressively difficult tasks.  At the end of every meeting, everyone has to pick one, manageable habit they will stick to for the week.  She had choose to workout two times. 

As with many people that have trouble sticking to a workout routine, she has an All-or-Nothing mentality.  She thinks that if she doesn’t go 5 days a week, for 1 hour each time, then she’s wasting her time.  The problem of course is that if you’re not currently working out, finding an additional 5+ hours to workout can be an arduous task. 

My answer though, reflects my true beliefs about change.  Here’s a paraphrase:   
“There are some instances, very few instances, where a person will decide to make a large change, such as working out 5 days a week, quit smoking, etc. and be able to do it instantaneously with little after thought.  The reason they are able to do this, is that they have changed a part of how they see themselves.  They have changed their “identity.” 

“Typically this happens when a large environmental change occurs, such as someone you care about dies from lung cancer, you have a child, you get a divorce, and it shakes to your core, the very center of ‘Who you think you are.’  

“You recognize, in an instant, that you have been someone “you’re not” and will no longer be that person.   It shakes the core of who you are emotionally and when you finally put together a plan that works logically, the change happens instantly. 

“On the other hand, there are other things we would like to see happen, but we only think that it would be nice to change.  Emotionally, were vested in other options, such as eating delicious but crappy food or playing with our children.  We want to save more money, lose some weight, exercise more often, etc. and are only partly committed to seeing those things come to fruition.   

“For these “on the fence” changes, you want the change to occur slowly.  This is where planning and patience become the fundamentals to which you build that habit up.   When you allow yourself to change one habit at a time, and build it up slowly, you allow yourself to actually incorporate that change into your daily repertoire. 

“The key to choosing either method is being realistic with yourself.  If you only want to change ONE habit, without it disrupting the rest of your life, then you are not having a ‘change of identity.’ 

“If on the other hand, you are ready for this change to change every single aspect of your life, then you might just be ready for a large change. 

So the question for you, dear reader, is are you ready to make exercise an integral part of your life, where tomorrow, every other habit you have will be shifted? 

The answer, is probably not.  And that’s fine. 

The real question, is if you’re not, then what are you going to do about it?  Will you allow yourself to start the process slowly of adding exercise to your life?   Will you allow yourself to start slowly, with small, manageable tasks and build up gradually?   To this, you should answer, “Yes.”

So, I will leave this post with one last question:  
“What is the ONE new behavior that you will start before next week?” 

Remember, to start small and be specific…with the key word being START.

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7 comments found

  1. The problem is, that between the slowness of the progress and the amount of effort involved, you have a lousy “product” to market. Think about it – if you wanted to sell something, but you tell your customers that they will get no pleasure from it for the foreseeable future and all it will do is cost them and cost them and cost them, if at the end of the month you had a warehouse of unsold “units”, would you be surprised?

    1. Ok. Let’s look at two people. One person does the typical New Year’s Resolution solution, which is, “I am going to go to the gym 5 days per week.” Almost all of those individuals will not be in the gym 4 weeks later. Why is this? Because they tried to create an identify shift without wanting that “shift” to effect every other aspect of their lives. In this realm, they are setting themselves up for failure.

      If on the other hand, you have someone that realizes that they want to have exercise be a part of their life, but recognize that it will take time to integrate the HABITS and BEHAVIORS which will lead them towards the ends they want (I’m guessing you’re talking about weight loss), then their focus will be on their habits and behaviors…and not the outcome.

      What you are saying in your analogy is that starting a company is stupid or building a high-rise building or raising a child as NONE of those aspects, do you “see” the results immediately. You have to work hard, put in the hours, put in the effort, do the planning, put in the effort for months and years on end, before you “see” benefits and outcomes of those endeavors.

      In other words, anything truly worth having takes time and effort.

      And in following that second person, she decides to start with walking two days a week. The second week, she walks two days a week and takes a multi-vitamin. Week three, she does that and changes her breakfast for a high protein breakfast. Week four, she adds a high amount of fish oil. Week five she stays the same but figures out how to “find more time” for exercise by enlisting the help of others in her family. Week six, she walks 3 days a week and does some strength training after each walk. And so on. If she went into it, with the habit-building and behavior-building aspects as opposed to the immediate results, within a year, her life would be transformed. Whereas, the person who jumped into it, but wasn’t ready, will have to start over all over again, but typically 5 pounds heavier.

      Therefore, this “lousy product” with a good distribution set up, would typically have sold more units by the end of the year, then the person who sold 20 the first week, but didn’t have any distribution set up and those products never got to the customers.

  2. “…starting a company is stupid or building a high-rise building or raising a child as NONE of those aspects, do you “see” the results immediately…”

    No, but very few successful companies start on blind luck – they’re planned, with an expectation of success to X level after Y time – because if you don’t the bank pulls the funding, and you don’t HAVE a company any more. Also, if the BANK doesn’t think X and Y are reasonable, no matter what you think, you don’t get the funding. Also, your analogy about a high rise building is absurd. No one will build any building that doesn’t have an “end” – you aren’t simply going to keep on adding storeys because building the last one gave you a kick! This has a beginning, a middle and an end, with a defined success (i.e. it’s completed and doesn’t fall down). Building the thing isn’t an end in itself.

    1. You know what I love? How you are arguing my points, by giving me examples of how the points I am making, make sense. Thanks.

      (Quick note: All caps for me do not indicate that I am screaming…they are representing a “sloooweed down” monotone mode of talking, just so that you comprehend what I am saying.)

      I should really end this reply here, but I am completely baffled by, what I can only surmise to be, a complete misunderstanding of what I wrote.

      Identity shifts are rare! They happen overnight, usually after a life-altering event and some planning. This is what I said.

      Process changes are planned and slow. Just like the companies and buildings you are talking about above. Of course their is an end and vision in sight. The whole point is that it doesn’t have to happen over-night AND that you CAN plan it.


      The beginning is slow, the middle is a bit more advanced and the end is a maintenance stage where you are content not only with the exercise, but with your body.

      So please tell me how I was so wrong with my response, that you had to write “No” as your very first word?

  3. What you appear to say throughout is that exercise is an end, in and of itself, irrespective of the aim, and that the “goal” is the process, not the result. No one (except possibly the first person, to prove it could be done) builds a skyscraper for the sake of building a skyscraper – the process is a means to maximise floorspace for a minimum use of real estate. It’s a response to demand. If no one wants office space, no one builds skyscrapers just for the sake of finding a way to spend money.

    1. Yes, exercise is and can be an end in and of itself. Absolutely.
      It’s like saying the only reason people have sex is to pro-create. I’m sure there are some people that do, but sex is, more often than not an end within itself. People do it because they enjoy it. The same can be true for exercise.

      Are there some people that will only exercise for the results? Sure, and I’ve talked about those people. I’ve talked about how people that do that, without an added internal benefit, will typically stop exercising over the long-term. What I haven’t talked about, is how I feel at times, regimented exercise is not needed. Walking is good enough for some people.

      And if you think people haven’t build skyscrapers for the anticipation of market moves, although there was no demand for it, look at Houston’s lackluster market.

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